by Joshua Chambers-Letson

About Joshua Chambers-Letson

Joshua Chambers-Letson (he/him or no preference) is Professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. He is the author of After the Party: A Manifesto on Queer of Color Life and A Race So Different: Law and Performance in Asian America.


The singularity of the word identity belies how identity is experienced as an inherent plurality. This statement has concrete political implications for femme, queer, and other minoritarian ways of being in the world. Critical theorist Hortense Spillers writes that “questions of identity [a]re neither automatic nor unfraught, but [a]re, instead, shot through with regimes of difference” (Spillers 2003, 9). Such a conception of identity stands in distinction to the dominant western political and epistemological tradition, in which it is routinely defined as self-similarity—a kind of sameness and even sovereignty of self forged against other axes of (exteriorized) difference. Take the reduction of identity to a discourse of “absolute and essential sameness” or “oneness” in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), for instance (OED Online, “identity,” n.d.). When identity is understood as a mode of (self)sameness that defines “who or what a person or thing is,” the identity of the self routinely becomes defined against the difference of the other (who or what a person or thing is not).